Notes: Abkha hehe heavenly goddess and the Manchu/Jurchen people who revere her

This folklore and myth of the Manchus from the Heilongjiang Province is researched for relic demic and cultural influences from the Amurian folk who may have peopled Japan in the prehistoric past. A number of observations may be made.

Akbke hehe heavenly mother goddess recalls the Japanese Amaterasu goddess…and in the name is the rare corresponding cognate word with the Japanese “haha” for mother, belying the Altaic-Tungusic linguistic connection.


The two peoples (Japanese and Heilongjiang people) shared their magpie creator myths, crow ancestors (Jimmu led by a crow) and the similarity of the divinity riding on a red deer (the god who rode golden deer from the Kashima shrine of Ibaragi to Hachimangu in the West)

“During the more than one thousand years of the history of their development as a nation, the Manchu have created a rich immaterial culture. In addition to old written literary works, this culture possesses an abundant stock of oral popular traditions. The Manchurian myth of the origin of the world that Backer analyzes in this work is just one of these traditions.

It is a text that originally carried the title “The Battle in the Heavenly Palace,” and was recorded in writing only very recently. This myth belongs to an originally oral tradition of the category Wecekun Ulhibun (‘Announcements at the site of a sacrifice”) that formerly used to be recited by a shaman in remote areas, particularly in Heilongjiang Province. These  “announcements” were the sacred property of each clan, but they varied considerably in their content from clan to clan. They were handed down through many generations, and a small number of them has been recorded in writing only since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The myth introduced in this book originates from the Fuca-hala (Fuca clan) in the Aihui (Aigun) district.
The myth analyzed here is possibly the most complete version of such a myth known today. The Chinese manuscript was written in 1936 at the time of the Manchukuo, the puppet state of Japan. The myth was recorded directly as it was sung by a shaman. The text was able to survive the second world war, the extreme Anti-Rightist-Campaign of 1957, and the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution (1966—1976) because it was hidden away. Unfortunately, due to the effects of the weather and of combat activities in the Heihe area, parts of the text became illegible, and some of the chapters were dispersed.
In an extensive introduction Backer discusses the history of the creation myth and makes illuminating comparisons with similar folk literature that has existed among other peoples of Eurasia. He divides the nine sections of the text into nine chapters and then provides each chapter with a detailed commentary that provides background knowledge. In the analysis of the myth he discusses its structure and type. He also addresses the question of Iranian influences and investigates possible means and routes for the transmission of Iranian ideas to northeast Manchuria. For his investigation of possible transmission routes, he compares the Manchurian material with Altai-Turkic parallels. In relation to the entire complex of Manchu cosmology, he discusses the heavenly constellations that appear in the myth together with ideas about the heavenly bodies that are of north Manchurian origin and which belong to the shamanistic worldview of the Manchu. He also addresses problems the myth raises in relation to shamanistic rituals and to the possibility of a matrilineal structure in the Manchu clans.
The myth begins with a short narrative about the shamaness Bo’e-deyinmu,who arrives from the east riding on a divine deer, and w ho,s spirit tells the myth through the mouth of the shaman narrating it. Backer believes that the deer was a red deer, but I rather think that it was a reindeer. Many stories are told among the local Manchu population about the magnificent abilities of this shamaness who is said to have lived from 1662 to 1735 as healer, diviner, storyteller, and singer. She is also believed to be a deity of song and dance.
This Manchu creation myth describes the origin of the world, including that of the heavenly bodies and that of a triad of goddesses: Abka Hehe (Woman of Heaven), Banamu Hehe (Woman Mother Earth), and Ulden Hehe (Woman Light). These goddesses in turn then create humans (both men and women), all the other living beings, and more goddesses.
The goddess Aoqin, who has nine heads and eight arms, is a particularly wild and aggressive goddess. She becomes the androgynous demon Yeluri who then attempts to destroy the good goddesses in order to rule the world. This being is, therefore, some sort of Manchurian Satan. In the myth Yeluri personifies evil, destruction, deceit, coldness, and darkness. He is the foe of all that is good. The myth also tells of the continuous fight with the demon Yeluri who is capable of generating new demons. With the help of several theriomorphic goddesses such as the hedgehog goddess, the rat goddess, and the eagle goddess, to mention only the most important ones, the good goddesses finally succeed in beating back the attacks of the demon Yeluri and ban him to live under the surface of the earth.
Abka Hehe in the end becomes an immortal and invincible goddess of the universe who protects heaven and earth for future generations. She dispatches the divine eagle woman with the mission to raise on earth a small girl to become the first great shamaness. The first shaman (shamaness) being raised by an eagle (female eagle) is a motif widespread in northern Asia.
All of these events happen during the time before the flood, which in the Manchu myth is caused by the demon Yeluri and not by human misbehavior. However, the great flood constitutes a break in time that has universal consequences that affect the Manchu. It is noteworthy that shamanism originates in the time before the flood, a fact that is said to be proof of its being close to the divine. Abka Hehe continues to be active also after the flood but later she is replaced by Abka Enduri, the male god of heaven. Although today Abka Enduri and other male gods are prevalent, the myth is apparently meant to point out that until recently Abka Hehe existed and was of great importance. In any case, this tradition offers an example in which matriarchy had been replaced by patriarchy in the Manchu pantheon of deities. It is also quite likely that the tradition reflects two historical realities in the ethnic group:

(1) that the vocation of a shaman was transmitted matrilineally among the early Manchu; and
(2) that even matrilineal clans might have existed. Later on, the system of descendence of the
shamans in particular as well as the one within the clans in general may have changed in
favor of patrilineal filiation.” — Jorg Backer

Book review source: Nanzan journal BAcker Jorg, Editor. Mandschurische Gottinnen und iranische Teufel. Die Mandschu-Weltentstehungsmythen als Kultursynthesen. Shamanica Manchurica Collecta 4. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997.157 pages. Illustrations, bibliography, index. P ap er n. p.; ISBN 3-447-03934-5. (In German)

More related resources:

The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions


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